Recent Grenfell graduate Lauren Brinson has been named a regional winner of the 2017 BMO 1st Art Award for her piece “Small Talk.” The annual award recognizes excellence in visual arts by post-secondary students from all across Canada.

This year the award is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary and received 303 submissions, the highest number of entries to date. Brinson is one of twelve regional finalists who will receive a $7,500 prize, as well as a trip to Toronto to see their work displayed at the Justine M. Barnicke Gallery.

“Small Talk” is a sculptural installation that explores intimacy and social communication. The piece is an oversized, custom-built, tin can telephone that really works. Brinson hopes visitors to the gallery pick up the eighteen-inch tall cans and experiment with talking to each through the cotton rope that connects them.

“I have personal difficulties with social communication, I’m a pretty anxious person and I think one of the things that made me interested in visual art in the first place was the idea of not having to say anything to convey what I’m thinking or feeling. The idea of making an object that could speak for itself was very attractive to me,” Brinson said.

Before creating “Small Talk,” Brinson worked on a series of smaller tin can telephone pieces. In her earlier work, the cans would sit on microphone stands and the cord that connected them would be tangled, cut, or interrupted by bits of knotted-together strings making the telephones unusable. Part of what interested Brinson about transitioning to a much larger tin can telephone was the privacy the 12-inch diameter the can offered the user.

“I liked the idea of creating a sense of intimacy and privacy, the only way to use the big tin cans is to put them right up to your face and there’s no eye contact between you and the other user. There’s just sound,” Brinson said. “… When you raise them up to your face they kind of encase your whole head and you get this new sense of privacy, you’re inside talking to just one person.”

When we spoke, Brinson had just returned from the library where she’d been working on applications for artist residencies. She was surprised and honoured when she learned she was Newfoundland and Labrador’s regional winner of this year’s BMO 1st Art Award, and it’s made her feel more confident about herself as an artist.

“It’s very uplifting, I feel much better about trying for masters programs after something like this. I’m really excited to go to Toronto and meet the other winners. It’s going to be a really interesting peer-group, because we’re all recent graduates of post-secondary art programs,” Brinson said.